Based on the bestselling novel, Netflix’s new government conspiracy series is ploddingly dull and generic.
Plot: A sophisticated, character-based, action-thriller centering on a low-level FBI Agent who works in the basement of the White House, manning a phone that never rings — until the night that it does, propelling him into a fast-moving and dangerous conspiracy that ultimately leads all the way to the Oval Office.
Review: Spies, conspiracies, double agents, and cyberterrorism. Remember when these were quaint plot devices on screens, big and small? It feels like a streaming service debuts a new espionage story every few weeks. Some try to upend convention while others stick frustratingly close to formula, but few seem to break outside the box to do something unique with the genre. The Night Agent, based on the best-selling novel by Matthew Quirk, plays like an extended origin story that mines a tried and true plot without really uncovering any gems. Despite solid chemistry from the leads and a couple of surprising supporting performances, The Night Agent is a ploddingly dull series that fails to capitalize on the talented actors on screen by placing them into a predictable and overlong origin story that could have worked better as a feature film.
The Night Agent opens abruptly with FBI agent Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso) aboard a Washington D.C. metro train. When he suddenly spots a man planting a bomb, Sutherland immediately rescues as many civilians as possible before chasing after the suspect. Unable to capture him, the series jumps forward to show the volatile Sutherland manning the Night Action phone in the White House under the direct supervision of Chief of Staff Diane Farr (Hong Chau). Through some deduction, we can determine that online conspiracy theorists think Sutherland may have planted the bomb since his father was unmasked years earlier as a spy for the Russians. Working his post, Sutherland is in charge of the intake of emergency calls from agents in the field when he receives a call from Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan), a former CEO of a cybersecurity company whose aunt and uncle appear to be undercover agents. Very quickly, Sutherland and Larkin realize they are involved in a massive plot that involves people up to the highest levels of power.
Over the ten episodes comprising The Night Agent, Sutherland and Larkin go on the run from the United States government and a pair of assassins (Eve Harlow and Phoenix Rael), unable to trust anyone. While Farr, Ben Almora (Enrique Murciano), and Erik Monks (D.B. Woodside) try to assist Sutherland, the series makes it difficult to figure out who we can trust and who has ulterior motives. All of this plays out alongside a plot involving the Vice President’s daughter, Maddie (Sarah Desjardins), and her protective service agent Chelsea Arrington (Fola Evans-Akingbola). Each hour-long episode is focused on the main characters uncovering the complex plot that they are implicated in while also offering flashbacks to how these characters got to where they are today, including Rose’s company collapsing and forcing her to declare bankruptcy, Peter’s relegation from agent to the Night Action desk, and a tragic event in Maddie’s childhood.
Last year, Netflix aired a similar series called The Recruit, starring Noah Centineo. That series relied on humor to offset the violence and action involved in the terrorism and conspiracy plots. The Night Agent struggles with any humor and instead opts to present this series as a more traditional action drama in the vein of 24 or the Jason Bourne films. Unlike those movies, there is no twist to the formula that sets this tale apart and instead unfolds rather predictably. Having seen the entire season, I find it tough to figure out why they needed ten episodes to tell this story. The core story here can be adequately told in four episodes at most, with the remaining six full of red herrings and misdirections that bog down the plot rather than make it more engaging. Hong Chau, hot off an Academy Award nomination for The Whale, here gives one of her oddest performances as the stuffy and stilted Diane Farr. Gabriel Basso and Luciane Buchanan have solid chemistry, but their characters consistently make baffling narrative decisions.
Created by Shawn Ryan, best known for the excellent cop series The Shield and the underrated Terriers, it does not do much to differentiate The Night Agent from the dozens of network television series about spies or law enforcement. With four episodes directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) and the rest helmed by Guy Ferland, Ramaa Mosley, Millicent Shelton, and Adam Arkin, The Night Agent rarely feels like more than filler for Netflix to stuff on their platform. It is a shame because there is a spark now and then in this series, mostly from Basso in action mode and Buchanan the rest of the time, that could have worked in a stronger series. The problem inherently lies in the familiarity of this premise, which takes a completely odd turn in the final episode, setting up a much different second season, should The Night Agent earn the chance to keep telling this story.
The latest in a string of disappointing original productions, The Night Agent could easily be mistaken for a network television series if it were not for the profanity. Aside from that, this series is like every other government conspiracy show released over the last ten years, maybe longer. The villains are thinly drawn, and subplots exist to drag this story to ten chapters. By the end of the season, I felt underwhelmed by just how many misdirections were forced into each episode. It is a shame because Basso and Buchanan both have the presence to lead a series, but they deserve one with stronger writing and a more original premise. The Night Agent feels like a story that would have starred Liam Neeson or Kiefer Sutherland in their prime. The tension never gets above lukewarm in this series, which cannot even make the safety of the President feel exciting.
The Night Agent premieres on March 23rd on Netflix.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-night-agent-tv-review/